The first round of the playoffs was extended from best-of-five to best-of-seven in order to reduce the number of upsets. Coincidentally, the top two regular-season teams met in the Stanley Cup finals.
Those teams were the Edmonton Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers. With Wayne Gretzky winning the Ross Trophy as the league's scoring leader for the seventh straight time and the Hart Trophy as its MVP for the eighth year in a row, Edmonton led the Smythe Division with 106 points, while Philadelphia had an even 100 points to lead the Patrick.
Philadelphia's strength was defense. Mark Howe, Gordie's son, finished second to Boston's Ray Bourque in Norris Trophy voting and rookie goalie Ron Hextall won the Vezina Trophy, as the Flyers gave up only 245 goals, 4 more than the Montreal Canadiens, who led the league in that category.
The Oilers had an easy trip to the finals, winning 12 of 14 games, including a five-game series victory over the Detroit Red Wings in the Campbell Conference finals. It was somewhat more difficult for the Flyers. After beating the New York Rangers in six games, they had a seven-game battle with the New York Islanders in the Patrick Division finals, followed by another six-game series with the Montreal Canadiens.
Edmonton took a 3-1 lead in the finals, but the Flyers came back with two one-goal victories to even it up. The seventh game was at Edmonton. After an early 1-0 deficit, the Oilers won, 3-1, for their third Stanley Cup championship in four years. Gretzky held the cup aloft and then passed it on to Steve Smith, the young defenseman whose errant clearing pass had led to the goal that knocked the Oilers out of the playoffs the previous year.
Despite the Flyers' loss, Ron Hextall won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. It was the second year in a row the trophy went to a rookie goaltender; Montreal's Patrick Roy had won it in 1986.